McLarens Canada welcomes Microsoft-FrontBridge transition

A longtime Canadian FrontBridge Technologies user says its problems with the technology have been solved following Microsoft’s acquisition of the hosted e-mail firm last year.

As part of Microsoft‘s software as a service strategy, the company has rolled out its roadmap for Microsoft Exchange Hosted Services (EHS), formerly known as FrontBridge Technologies Inc.

Microsoft acquired FrontBridge last August and is now offering a new licensing model for four hosted solutions: hosted filtering, hosted archive, hosted continuity and hosted encryption. These operate over the Internet as a service without any hardware or software to install on premise.

The hosted services are aimed at small and mid-sized businesses that can’t afford the upfront capital investment or IT resources to do it on their own. Since the acquisition, Microsoft says it’s experienced a 25 per cent growth in its customer base and 20 per cent growth in the number of reseller partners offering these services to their customers.

McLarens Canada, which provides loss adjustment and claims services, has been a FrontBridge customer since 2004. At that time, the company turned to Telus, its service provider, to provide a solution that would cut down on spam and protect employees from viruses through e-mail. “I wanted a product that gave me next to zero administration and honestly I didn’t think it existed, but they came back with FrontBridge,” said Don Cortell, IT manager with McLarens Canada in Mississauga, Ont. The company pays a monthly licensing fee through Telus at about $3 a head.

“I had one user that was receiving in excess of 300 pieces of spam a day and you can imagine how much time was involved with that one user,” he said. “Multiply that by my 250 users.”

The company considered third-party solutions, but Cortell said these products could cause problems with the server by taking it offline – which meant, without a contingency plan, they’d start bouncing e-mails. “Clients do not want to see a bounce when they send you a message,” he said. “They think there’s something wrong with the business.”

But it also had a problem with FrontBridge. Prior to the acquisition, some of the black-list organizations had actually black-listed the data centres that FrontBridge was using, said Cortell. After the acquisition, however, that problem went away. His users are also more productive, he said, and from an IT management standpoint, he’s stopped receiving messages from users asking if certain e-mails are spam. When the Silver virus came out last year, the company didn’t experience any downtime.

Right now McLarens is taking advantage of two of the hosted services: filtering and archiving. Exchange Hosted Filtering uses multiple filters to help protect inbound and outbound e-mail from spam, viruses, phishing and other malware, while Exchange Hosted Archive is a message archiving system for e-mail and instant messages that helps meet regulatory and legal demands.

For McLarens, the archiving solution is critical: it has federal contracts that require an audit trail, and in some cases mailboxes must be stored for seven years. “You really want to make sure that information is protected,” he said.

Cortell is also considering the other two hosted services: Exchange Hosted Continuity is a Web interface that allows ongoing access to e-mail during and after unplanned outages, and Exchange Hosted Encryption allows users to send and receive encrypted e-mail directly from their desktops. “That encrypted e-mail portion would take another level of administration off my desk,” he said.

Cortell has three members in the IT department, but without a hosted solution he’d need an extra person on his team – which means an extra salary.

One reason for the re-branding from FrontBridge to EHS is to create a strong association between Exchange and the services that surround it, such as security and high-availability, said Bryan Rusche, Exchange product manager for Microsoft Canada Co. in Mississauga, Ont. Every customer is going to be looking at these types of services in some form or another, he said, whether they have it hosted, bring it in-house or use a hybrid solution.

“When we start to look at smaller customers and mid-size customers, it’s giving them a cost-effective way to start implementing these types of solutions,” he said. Archiving as a way to comply with regulatory statutes, for example, requires a significant investment in hardware, software and expertise, so this provides an alternative. There’s also a 90-day release cycle with EHS, so customers can stay on top of the latest threats without having to deal with the upgrades themselves, he said. They can also try a 30-day free trial of the hosted filtering service before committing to it.

Version 5.3, which will provide improvements to real-time recognition and alerting of spam bursts, is due for release this month.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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